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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brain differences: the black hole of formal education

The brain processes, as reviewed at this blog, are delicate networks of information. If part of the process is stopped, may cause different effects, from the momentary forgetfulness of what is being said ... what  are we talking about? ... Oh!, yes of course ... to lack of understanding of the context while we are talking.

But brain development doesn't happen in one day, nor is achieved over the age. Psychologists interpreted so bad Jean Piaget's position about development, that they attributed to development a character of mandate almost divine once the child reaches a certain age. The same applies to other developmental studies such as Gessell's. This opened a door to many books that every new mom reads so anxious, expecting her baby can do exactly what book says, but if her child still not makes the move, gesture or behavior becomes a problem. Certainly development has a range of normal and abnormal, all studies about neurodevelopment point on that direction, but there is always a need for being respectful when one has to explain that babies can not read, and that they achieve their balance with the environment through the stimulation and their need to exercise a certain activity.

As the Russian Vygotsky noted, the higher processes require a mediator, born of necessity (Vygotsky, 1995). The example he used to support this idea was the relationship between thought and language. But nearly a century has passed and this simple statement is still spinning in neuroscience.

But there are other studies that seem to complement that statement; it’s obvious that biological evolution was accompanied by an increase in complexity, reaching the brain itself at both human and other species. After all, the struggle of the fittest allows the maintenance of a species on the face of the earth.

If allowed to take a second to think what's different about a gifted person of another human being?, Of course, the responses suggest that a gifted is able to do or perform tasks that not everyone can do. Some may say, very elegant, the analysis of a person's behavior depends on the number of functions executed in the course of a life (Sagan, 2002) and others will say that the difference is the side of everyone occupy on normal learning curve.

Taking the latter statement as a starting point, what does make different from a person who is on the left or right side of the normal curve?, is it possible to exchange the sides?.

Formal education clearly indicates that this is not possible, but also this question is not even necessary to education, because everyone should learn the same, at the same rate and under the same principles. That is why governments have recently spent thousands of dollars on the appropriateness of standardized tests, which seek to compare the performances not only between individuals but between countries (UNESCO, 2006).

But then, could a person be on one side of the curve for some activities and at other side to another?, what does make the difference?.

From the point of view of the most basic components of life and the adaptations that are made through them, the brain is reduced to the molecular structures represented in the DNA, 23 pairs of chromosomes that correspond to every person (except in case of a mutation), proteins, RNA, genotype (Velázquez Arellano, 2004; Mann, 2011) and of course it's not possible to forget, the dozens of neurotransmitters and hormones, among all, each element will look for balance and a specific function within the central  and peripheral nervous system (Stix, 2011).

If  structures are analyzed, it's possible to see the neo cortex as the executor of the most sophisticated and the whole network of neural networks that run the entire length and breadth of the brain, searching consolidate from their specific functions (Prescott, Gavrilescu, Cunnington, O'Boyle and Egan, 2010).

Structurally, all brains are similar structurally and serve the same functions, except those with injuries or altered by genetic responses (Dzib, Goodin, 2011). On average, the brain weighs at birth 1375 grams and is on average 12% higher in proportion to the rest of the body (Sagan, 2002).

Under this point of view, education has followed the right path. All brains are primarily structural and functionally similar.

And all the higher processes have the same functions, a sensation captures the information from the environment through specific receptors, the perception  integrates information and make the service either memory, attention, learning, thinking, or language, which will transform  sensations of new ideas. Finely spattered by the motivation and excitement, for without this component, the process is not specific, as demonstrated by studies of neuromarketing and decision making (Blanchette & Richards, 2010; Leder, 2011).

Even when analyzing gender differences, the differences are small, because it gives more weight to the interaction with the environment when examining the attitudes towards certain areas of knowledge as mathematics, or engineering (Halpern, Benbow, Geary, Gur , Shibley Hyde and Gernsbacher, 2007).

But if we are all similar and neuro surgeons do not have to learn how each one of the brains and only need to be clear how to applies  the function map to all of them, Why do criticize formal education?, So far it seems that is correct that there are no differences.

Well, there are differences that place to each individual in a different position compared to another talking about learning, some studies show that skills are created by brain processes, ranging from a lack of development of the neocortex, prioritizing areas of the limbic system, as in the case of profound mental retardation, until the development of a neocortex focused on clear objectives, but a deterioration in emotional or interpersonal skills. So the conclusion is that we are different, because brain develops in each person based on three important aspects: genes, environment and interaction with the learning, creating a unique and unrepeatable brain.

Basically the functions should be adapted to the environment, this is called intelligence, and this is achieved by the needs that each individual faces over life in their interaction with the environment (Dzib Goodin, 2011), and this is supplemented with needs as specie, since a lot of development is related to technological advances and intracranial capacity. There will come a point where the brain efficiency will be tested because there is no more space to expand into, the cranial cavity is not getting bigger, the space is reduced and with it, more pressure over functions (Fox, 2011).

On the other hand, studies have tended to think that the struggle for neuronal connections, under the law of the strongest, sacrificing performance on shaping brains, so the domination of the neocortex on the excitement is that the networks neurons are so strong that oppress those that are not used together and effectively, creating lesions that affect the neurological development, as can be observed in the case of developmental disorders (Hardan, Minshew, Keshavan Mallikarnjuhn and 2001; Heaton and Wallace, 2004; Herbert, 2005).

It is then that neurological studies show that not all brains work the same way and that an important feature is the white substance, which allows the speed of synaptic transmission and brain structure and metabolic efficiency can make a difference (Haier, 2009).

So, the position on one side or the other of the normal curve is due to the distribution of brain architecture and that each person uses combinations of weak versus the key areas and this produces unique combinations. In this sense, an apprenticeship program may be done to fit to depositary of the brain in response to the individual characteristics. However, this does not involve custom software development, but the analysis of how people use information.

That is why now criticizes psychological tests, because they forget important aspects of how intelligence works in the real world and it is possible that people who are considered extremely talented by teachers, fail in the resolution of standardized tests, while people who seems less intelligent, are able to recognize the requirements of every item. Thus, now researchers begin to ask whether intelligence tests measure the correct human faculties, although it has been a criticism made for many years (Stanovich, 2009).

Returning to the original question, is it possible that all children learn?, is it education by taking the right path to effective learning?, is it an economic issue?.

Well, based on what has been presented, yes, it is possible to have happy learners as children and productive adults, in the interest of economy of a country, if considered at the outset that there are learning styles, developed from the experiences created interaction with the environment (Torrance, 1977).

This interaction creates cytoarchitectural differences and this can make the change in the interpretation of the environment and making decisions based on cognitive control (Roberts, Anderson, and Husain, 2010). And this is sometimes possible to observe only with unconventional measuring cognitive abilities (Lohman, Korb and Lakin, 2008).

Is it necessary an overinvestment to learn?, from the view of neuroscience, no, not at all, countries only need a change of attitude at all levels. As human beings, we do not learn what is imposed; learn what we want with our own way and pace. It’s the cognitive vision corrected and improved. But the idea of learning to learn built from cognition schools more than 30 years ago remains hidden in the drawer of good intentions. Just to give an example, one program at a public university in Mexico, which teaches special needs education has been named since many years: scholar problems, with an arrogant attitude on the child is told he has a problem. The reality is that every human being learns differently.

Concepts such as integrative or inclusive education, have no reason to be, despite all the Spanish tradition, the idea should focus more on strategies of assimilation of the world. What it is black to someone another can see it white, but if you share and learn from it, does it matter the color difference?, After all what matters is the use and management that the brain makes of the information.

Finally, different brains learn better with socialization this is an intuitive need, what can a child with Down syndrome teach to a computer whiz?, You never know ...

Alma Dzib Goodin 

If you would like to know more about my writing you can visit my web site:


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3D image: Juan Conde Tovany

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